Arsenal knocked out current FA Cup holders Manchester City on Saturday evening, beating the Citizens 2-0 at Wembley Stadium thanks to a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang brace.
The Gunners took the lead on 19 minutes, when Aubameyang atoned for an earlier miss by brilliantly turning home a Nicolas Pepe cross. Man City then knocked on the Arsenal door as the half progressed, but Mikel Arteta’s men stood firm, and even looked dangerous on the break.
The Citizens took control of the second half, penning Arsenal back, but they squandered some great opportunities, with Raheem Sterling guiltiest of not making the Gunners pay. Kevin De Bruyne went close with a free-kick, but his effort ruffled the side netting.
And the Citizens were made to rue their missed chances, when Aubameyang broke free down the left flank and tucked the ball neatly beyond Ederson, doubling their lead with 20 minutes to play. Arsenal were subjected to some intense pressure at the end, but they held on to claim a well-earned victory, and a place in the FA Cup final.
Key Talking Point
Arsenal lined up against the current FA Cup holders with a back five once more, and all eyes were on how Kieran Tierney would fare at left centre-back. The defender’s attributes seemed to fit the occasion perfectly, in a game where pace and awareness would be required over height and strength.
And it’s safe to say, the Scotsman put in a truly commanding display at the back. Tierney was neat, assured and efficient in his defensive duties, proving to be a calming influence on his normally erratic backline partners. The 23-year-old was not afraid to drive out of defence with the ball at his feet either, marauding into the Man City half on numerous occasions, adding an extra body to the swift attacking moves. All in all, a fantastic display.
After struggling with injuries at the beginning of his Arsenal career, Tierney is beginning to look worth every penny the Gunners shelled out, and his signing could be exactly what this creaking defence needs.
Starting XI: Martinez (8); Mustafi (7), Luiz (8), Tierney (8); Bellerin (7), Ceballos (8), Xhaka (9), Maitland-Niles (7); Pepe (8), Lacazette (8), Aubameyang (8).
Substitutes: Willock (7), Torreira (6), Holding (N/A), Kolasinac (N/A).
Time to put some respect on this name. Granit Xhaka has been a scapegoat at Arsenal for a long time, and it seemed as if his career at the Emirates Stadium had come to an end on a number of occasions. But the Swiss midfielder has rebuilt his reputation under Arteta, reclaiming a spot in the starting lineup, and providing an excellent shield to his backline.
And Xhaka was at it once again on Saturday evening. The midfielder led by example from the off, harassing Man City’s attacking stars and giving them little time to breathe. In possession, he was tidy, careful and resourceful, making sure to hand the more complicated responsibilities to the technically superior Dani Ceballos. In the tackle, he was clean as a whistle.
Overall, it was an assured, conscientious, and error-free game by Xhaka – exactly what you’d hope for from your holding midfielder.
Key Talking Point
How will Man City cope when Sergio Aguero finally leaves the club? The Argentine missed out once again for Guardiola’s side, and the pressure was on Gabriel Jesus to fill his enormous boots. The Brazilian forward is without doubt a talented striker, and on his day he can pull off some extraordinary moments of genius.
But Saturday night was another of those frustrating evenings for the 23-year-old. Admittedly, Arsenal’s deep defensive strategy left very little room for Jesus to manoeuvre, and he looked incredibly isolated, cutting a frustrated figure. The forward didn’t have a sniff in the first half, and he was largely anonymous in the second. When you need that spark or individual moment to change a game, Jesus just doesn’t seem capable of producing the goods.
A miserable affair for Guardiola and Man City, who once again fail to break down a stubborn rearguard.
Starting XI: Ederson (5), Walker (5), Garcia (6), Laporte (6), Mendy (5), Gundogan (6), D Silva (6), De Bruyne (7), Mahrez (6), Jesus (5), Sterling (5).
Substitutes: Rodri (6), Foden (6), Fernandinho (N/A).
If Man City’s forward players could put the ball away, Kevin De Bruyne would probably have 385 assists this season. The Belgian very, very rarely misplaces a pass, so it’s almost impossible for him to have a bad game. And in a match where the Citizens failed to tuck away their chances, their playmaker will feel he did all he could to win the match.
Admittedly, De Bruyne didn’t have a great first half, but neither did his other ten teammates. So selecting from the second half and onwards, he was by far Man City’s brightest spark. The midfielder laid chance after chance on a plate for his teammates, but many were squandered, more often than not by the wasteful Sterling. But the Belgium international kept plugging away, dragging his side up the pitch with dainty passes and penetrating runs.
Not at his best, but better than those around him.
Arsenal follow up their fantastic FA Cup semi-final performance with a trip to relegation-threatened Aston Villa on Tuesday evening.
Man City must take on a side battling relegation too, when they travel to struggling Watford, hoping to bounce back from this surprise defeat.